Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears Live on WNYC

October 6, 2016

Brian Lehrer: It’s the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC – good morning, everyone. We begin today with Mayor Bill de Blasio and our weekly Ask the Mayor segment. Listeners, our phones are open for your Ask the Mayor questions at 2-1-1-4-3-3-W-N-Y-C, 4-3-3-9-6-9-2 or tweet a question just use the hashtag #AskTheMayor. Mr. Mayor, welcome back to WNYC.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you, Brian.

Lehrer: When you were on last week you remember we got a call from Sandra in Harlem who was concerned about the death of six-year-old Zymere Perkins in the neighborhood allegedly at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend, and you said holes in the system from the old days had been plugged, but we keep finding new things we need to address. I know this is one of your long term interests. You were head of the City Council General Welfare Committee for eight years, and focused on this among other things. Yesterday, you had a news conference about this to announce new reforms in light of this case. What have you learned that’s new here?

Mayor: Brian, I think the first thing to say – and I look at this as a parent as well as Mayor – is that we lost a child that we did not need to lose. We lost a child here because the system failed. And I said at the press conference yesterday, we’ve been through this horrible cycle before – Elisa Izquierdo, Nixmary Brown, Marchella Pierce, Myls Dobson – these are all children who were lost and each time it pointed out something wrong with the system. Now, I want to be fair because I think some of this conversation around saving our children and protecting our children we somehow make different than for example how we protect lives in general through our police or through preventing terror. They all have a communality of we’re constantly trying to learn how to do better and how to fix mistakes of the past or learn new ways of doing things and better ways of doing things. So, the bottom line here is that a number of agencies – City agencies, including the Administration for Children Service, Police Department, Department of Education, Homeless Services – all at one point or another in the not distant past had something to do with this family. There was not enough follow through in some ways from what we can see so far. There was not enough coordination. We’re now putting in place a set of additional reforms to take cases like this where there may be the potential of serious abuse, elevate them to higher level people in the Police Department and in ACS. We’re going to do a review of all of the agencies and how they’re working together, trying to improve what they do. We’re going to particularly look at issues like if children are missing school how we can sound the alarm quickly to make sure that’s not an indicator of something bigger. There’s a series of reforms including a lot more training for our caseworkers. We’ve done a lot more [inaudible] caseworkers, but they need more still. We’re going to put additional supervision on serious cases that is separate from the current supervision so an independent set of supervisors to be a check and balance on major cases. All the previous reforms had an impact. I want to say in the previous administrations as well the reforms had a very important positive impact, but we keep learning we must do more.

Lehrer: The Daily News has put this story on the front page multiple days as you know, and today is has a lead editorial with multiple pointed questions about the reforms you announced yesterday and you just mentioned some of them. I’m going to read you part of this. It says: “He promised the caseworkers with non-profit agencies that provide services to troubled families will no longer close serious abuse cases without Administration for Child Services’s approval, tacitly admitting that the city had outsourced life-and-death judgements. He vowed that a team of independents supervisors will routinely review cases tacitly suggesting that ACS had failed to adopt the Department of Investigations’s recommendation in May to do something similar. He said the school system will develop clear protocols for notifying ACS when children become chronically truant as Zymere had, tacitly indicating that the Department of Education and ACS were slipshod about a fundamental indicator of neglect.” And it goes on, I won’t subject you to all of it, but how about the first one – tacitly admitting that the City had outsourced life-and-death judgement with the new promises for outside non-profit caseworkers’ supervision?

Mayor: I think that’s fundamentally unfair. When I was chairman of the General Welfare Committee we fought very hard to get preventative services for families. But let’s be blunt, I think this is – the Daily News needs to really go back and check this history. Each of these tragedies as I said pointed out fundamental problems. After Nixmary Brown and several other horrible incidents it was quite clear there wasn’t enough in the way of preventative services. That means – just for your listeners – that means organizations that work with families and children, that go into the home regularly, that help try and address the problems in the home. This isn’t a case where there’s not enough proof or certainty to take a child out of the home, but there are real problems with how the parents handled parenting and with other dysfunctions in the family. So you literally have trained professional who are constantly involved with the family. It is proven to be very, very effective, and it’s turned around a lot of families. Those folks are trained. They are part of organizations that do this. And like every other aspect of social services in this city, there is a partnership between the city government and nonprofits. It happens every single day. So, with all due respect to the Daily News, if they don’t understand that fact, and they don’t understand that preventative services were a massive addition to what we did to protect kids and we put a huge amount of resources in, then they don’t understand that this is a far improvement over the times in the past where a family was struggling, the children were left in place, and there was no support for that family, no effort to intervene and stop the spiral. We’re saying there’s a way to do this better, that we now know we have to add an additional layer and each time – and again I said this yesterday, I really think people need to hear this – if everyone thinks we have the perfect formula from the beginning, well, we wouldn’t be having any of this discussion in anything – public safety or saving children or anything. We constantly have to learn and improve, so the preventative services were a huge step forward, but we need to add an additional layer now.

Lehrer: Your Children Services’s commissioner Gladys Carrion yesterday offered to resign if that will help. Will you ask for her resignation?

Mayor: Absolutely not. She has spent 40 years – literally she started in 1976 – 40 years of her life devoted to protecting children. And she was the author of some of the most important reforms at the State level when she was the state commissioner for Children and Families, and she has made major, major reforms. Remember, the Myls Dobson case happened days into our administration, and she implemented a whole series of reforms – things that were not in place before she got there – so she’s as angry and frustrated and fundamentally saddened as I am about this, but she’s also the person who can do the most to keep improving the system.

Lehrer: One more thing about this – you mentioned the Myls Dobson case from 2014. You’re getting a lot of criticism in the press today about what some call “hiding behind lawyers” to not talk about details of the case specifically who from ACS failed to do what when there had been five contacts with this family since 2010, and this is described as in contrast to the Myls case in 2014 when you did disclose details of the investigation. Are you hiding behind lawyers?

Mayor: No, and Brian we had exhaustive conversations of this yesterday. And I would ask people who are serious about getting to the truth they should stop hiding behind this argument. If we’re really talking about the truth – we had all the appropriate leaders of the administration including myself taking full responsibility, announcing a whole set of reforms, talking about everything that we’re going to do to continue proving that we can fix this system, and we also said very clearly the DA is involved. The Manhattan DA is involved, which was not true with Myls Dobson at the same point. That the laws regarding confidentially – that we all cherish in this society protecting families privacy, protecting medical records, protecting those who called in cases and alerted the authorities of the danger to a child – those are the laws and our City lawyers have advised us what we can and cannot talk about. And I also said all of it except for the most specifically confidential areas – all the tick tock of what happened, all the summary of who did what in the public sector will be revealed once the investigation is complete. And I think the notion of spending time asking why we can’t say things that we’re not yet supposed to say nor can we accurately answer because there is an investigation underway – it is the waste of the energy and the focus we need, which should be on protecting kids and making the changes we need to make. So, it’s just that – this is a fundamental misunderstanding. When there is an investigation I would wish that everyone understand – and I think the public does – when there is – the word investigation suggests a formal detail gathering of the facts by trained professionals with rules about how they do it and then you announce what you found when you actually have all the facts. That’s what the people deserve, not speculation, but the final accounting of the facts, and they will get it soon.

Lehrer: Alright, let’s move on. New topic – I see you’re announcing new rent increase protections for seniors and disabled people that could cover 20,000 additional folks in this time when everybody is concerned – everybody is always concerned in New York about affordable housing it seems like now more than ever. What’s the plan?

Mayor: The idea here is that there are so many people who are eligible for SCRIE and DRIE, senior citizens rent exemption and rent exemption for people with disabilities. And the income levels have been raised. So, more and more people are allowed to get it. It means you fill out the right paperwork – it’s not too complicated – we will be reaching out to people all over the City today to start them do it. And they get a rent increase exemption, so you do not pay new higher rent. And this is something that thousands – I think the estimate we are working on is something of the tune of 70,000-plus New Yorkers – seniors and people with disabilities. Right now, they would automatically be exempted from any rent increase and yet they are not taking advantage of it. So we want to cut through the red tape. We want to make it really simple. There will be a major, major citywide outreach effort. I want to say to anyone right now who is asking themselves the question, do I qualify? pick up the phone and call 3-1-1 and we can tell you or go online, nyc.gov. But this would mean – talk about everything we’re trying to do for affordable housing for over 70,000 New Yorkers this would mean affordable housing because they would not experience any rent increase.

Lehrer: And so can you give people some specific guidance and I hear you and we’ll reemphasize that people – if you think you might be covered by these rent increase exemptions and you’re not already to your knowledge call 3-1-1 to find out for sure. But what particular group of seniors or disabled people who may not realize it may now be covered?

Mayor: First of all, to say that because a lot of people, unfortunately, talk themselves out of taking advantage of a situation where they can get some help. I want to emphasis, and I will keep emphasizing every time we talk – whether it is someone who has a right to a lawyer because they are threatened with illegal eviction or being harassed by a landlord, or whether it is someone whom might have a right to this rent exemption, or someone who trying to make sure they take full advantage of the rent freeze for rent stabilized apartments; what I want is that people don’t wonder – that they actually pick up the phone call 3-1-1 or go online and get the facts and assume you do qualify. Let us work with you to confirm whether this is something for you. So, it is for people – the senior citizens rent increase exemption is for folks who are 62 and older and fit within the income limits and that right now is up to $50,000 annual income. I want to say, I want to give full credit to the State Legislature and the City Council. They worked very hard to increase that limit to recognize the reality of people’s lives and the cost of housing. So, if you are 62 or older and you make up to $50,000 you can qualify for that rent increase exemption. If you are 18 or older and have a disability you can also qualify. So, there’s also – as I said we think there is well over 70,000 New Yorkers who right now [inaudible] this incredible benefit and aren’t doing it.

Lehrer: Listeners, now it is your turn – ask the Mayor at 212-433-WNYC. Our lines are full, so you have to wait until people finish up or tweet a question at any time, use the hashtag #AsktheMayor. And Mohammed in Manhattan, you’re on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio. Good morning, Mohammed.

Question: Good morning. Hi, Brian. So, my concern is about a health issue. I am a New York City taxi driver and [inaudible]. And we really have a difficulty to use the restroom. Every place we go and they say it is only for the customers. It is really hard to find – [inaudible]. What can you do about it?

Mayor: Brian, I am having trouble hearing the question.

Lehrer: So, his question is – and Mohammed thank you very much. Well, I guess it is an eternal taxi driver’s question, which is where does he go to the bathroom. Too many restaurants will say customers only and then when he parks in front of a hydrant or something somewhere for two minutes to go to the bathroom, because there is no good public place, he gets a ticket.

Mayor: Look, the Taxi and Limousine Commission obviously can speak best to everything we try to do to help drivers and allow them to go through the workday in a healthy positive way. But I can just say something simple, I do – Mohammed I certainly understand the problem and I want to make sure if there is anything we can do to help we help, but parking in front of a hydrant is not an option. I just want to be very, very clear. That is about public safety. We need those hydrants clear. Whatever else you have to deal with don’t do something that might put people in danger. So, I’m going to have to refer that one to the Taxi and Limousine Commission because I don’t know what our particular approach is to trying to accommodate the needs of taxi drivers.

Lehrer: Mohammed, let’s try to get your response from the Taxi and Limousine Commission. We’ll take your contact off the air and we’ll go through TLC. I’m sure they have protocols for recommending how taxi drivers can get to use restrooms. So, hang on on that. Mr. Mayor, we learn on this segment every week that usually it doesn’t matter what is on the front page of the newspapers, people call with their own – with their own things and there’s a lot on the streets today. So, let’s take another one like that. Here is Ann in Park Slope. Ann, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor.

Question: Hi, very quickly – two quick things; one is I’m your neighbor, I’m your supporter, but I am very upset that Citi Bike have taken hundreds of spots recently in Park Slope. And it takes 45 minutes now to park; for people with children, elderly people trying to carry their groceries. I pay $125 bucks in tickets every time I try to get a bag of groceries into my house. There is no parking. And no one is using those Citi Bikes. And number two, your local Italian Café and mine, Salino’s on 7th Avenue has been told that they have to pay $13,000 a month in rent for a little Italian café – fabulous place – and it is closing. It’s been a neighborhood institution. Small businesses are being destroyed and the only thing that can open up around there now recently is a Starbucks. All the other small businesses are closing.

Lehrer: Are you asking for a certain policy response, Ann?

Question: Yes, I want him to do more to help small businesses and get rid some of these Citi Bikes; no one is even using them.

Lehrer: Ann, thank you very much. Well, Mr. Mayor, two things there as you hear.

Mayor: Well, Ann really is my neighbor because she talks about things that are like a block or two from my house, so she is the real thing. Ann, first of all, on the small businesses; I have often issued my critique of the free enterprise system. I am not thrilled with the fact that so many good neighborhood small businesses are being put in a horrible situation. The problem here I have is – and I have talked to people extensively in our administration and outside trying to find a solution that would hold water legally, and it has been very hard to find for a way to actually make sure we can preserve neighborhood small businesses through City policy. What I think we can do – we’re still trying to find something that will work. What I think we can do and we have done with some success is take the negative out of the equation for small businesses. They used to be fined very arbitrarily and regularly by the City government particularly in the outer boroughs, particularly true of the immigrant small businesses. I did a report on this when I was Public Advocate. We have greatly reduced these excessive and unnecessary fines. We replace them in many cases with education and warnings. The [inaudible] thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars of burden off of small businesses for things they should have never have had to pay. And we tried to simplify a number of regulations and other things to help them including when they start up, but this core question of the rent going up – I wish there was a simple public sector solution in a free enterprise economy, I don’t have that one yet. I have it much more on the affordable housing side where I can build affordable housing, where I can use the rent guidelines board to create some fairness for renters. You know, there are a lot of tools when it comes to housing, there is many fewer when it comes to businesses.

Lehrer: There are commercial rent controlled bills that come up in the City Council from time to time. Is there any version of that that you would support or push? Is there any version of that that you would support or push?

Mayor: I have not seen one that I think passes legal muster and would achieve the mission effectively. I have to be honest, this is something I’ve looked at or a long time with some yearning to find a solution and I don’t know one that would work right now, and it’s very, very frustrating because I’m deeply concerned about what’s changing neighborhood character and undermining small business, particularly family businesses that have been around for a long time. So, this is something I’ve talked to a number of key members of my administration. We’re trying to come up with some kind of new plan, but there is not a model on the table right now. We don't even know of one around the country that has worked consistently – maybe in a few, you know, specific, narrow cases, but not specific – excuse me, not consistently across the City. And, look, I would welcome your listeners helping us here, Brian, because I need new ideas about how we can protect these businesses. I don’t have a model right now. On Citi Bike –

Lehrer: Very candid, by the way – and, listeners, since we have so many people listening who are kind of policy wonks and maybe who do know some things that have worked in other cities in this country under U.S. law, or maybe even elsewhere. We’ve taken models – the Mayor certainly has taken models on street design and other things from international cities. So, if anybody has it, you can contact – who should they contact? Should they contact us and we’ll get it to you?

Mayor: I think that would be great, and I think it’s worth a fuller conversation, and, so, I’d welcome that, Brian.

Lehrer: Okay. And on the Citi Bikes?

Mayor: On the Citi Bike issue – look, I, again, I can personally relate to Ann’s call. I know exactly the location – not all of them – I know some of the locations she’s talking about right near my house. I don’t know the grand total of spaces that are being taken or the grand total number of Citi Bikes, but I have seen some new racks right near where I live. Here’s the rub – that we know we have to encourage every form of alternative transportation, mass transportation there is. We don’t have a choice in this. This is a City that is growing in population – we have congestion problems, we have a pollution problem, we have a climate change problem. Every time people are using a bike, a subway, a ferry, their feet, anything other than a car is a step forward for the City. So, that’s point one – we have to try any and all alternatives. Citi Bike has been very popular, very well used. It has certainly contributed to people not using cars. But I want to remind Ann, and everyone, we put in these stations and it is a test in each and every case to see how well used they are. If they’re very heavily used, good. If they’re not, we can take them back out, or we can alter them, or change locations. So, I understand because I used to try and park on the very same streets until just a couple of years ago. I understand what a huge problem it is to even lose a few parking spots, but there’s a bigger imperative here, which is that we’ve got to get people whenever possible out of their cars. Ann mentioned she has kids. I didn’t even buy a car until 1999 when Dante had come along and I came to the conclusion we couldn’t live without one anymore for everything we’re doing with two kids. But the bottom line is, you know, whenever people don’t need to use a car, or whenever an alternative to owning a car, that’s what we have to encourage in many ways. And the final thing on the enforcement, because I understand what’s Ann’s saying, if you’re just getting out to drop off a child or, you know, bring some groceries into the home – that should not be a ticket. So, that’s something we have to work on. Our enforcement agents of course need to show some sensitivity to when people are very, very briefly doing something like that. So, that’s something we will try and work on to improve because that’s not the kind of enforcement we’re looking for. 

Lehrer: By the way, I’m still thinking about Mohammad, the taxi cab driver. And, listeners, maybe other drivers out there – taxi drivers – have your secrets for finding restrooms while you’re out on the job. Why don’t you tweet to us? Use the hashtag, #Restrooms. We’ll compile a little list. And, Mohammad, if you’re still listening, go to our @BrianLehrer Twitter later in the day. Let’s see what some other people come up with. I know we have a lot of taxi drviers who listen. So, drivers, help your colleague Mohammad out. Tweet at us #Restrooms and tell us what your taxi driver secret is. We’ll crowdsource this solution for finding restrooms when you’re on the job, okay? Brian, in East Orange, you’re on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio. Hello.

Question: Hi, Brian. Hello, Mayor. My question is this – in light of the constant back and forth with New York City and the State, will you, Mayor de Blasio, support the 2017 constitution referendum to [inaudible] some control from the State?

Lehrer: Are you familiar with this, Mr. Mayor?

Mayor: I cannot tell a lie, Brian, I have not seen that. I have been very explicit about the fact that there’s an imbalance in the relationship between the City and State. We are 43 percent of the State’s population and growing. We are the economic driver of the State and the revenue generator for the State of New York, and there are too many things, including our rent rules and regulations, our ability to tax ourselves – a host of things that are decided in Albany that should not be. But I can’t speak to a specific proposal that I have not seen.

Lehrer: Brian, is this about a constitutional convention at the State level?

Question: Yes. Every 20 years, New York City has an opportunity to get back some control, and 2017 is the next opportunity – that this will happen.

Lehrer: You know what I think it is, Mr. Mayor? I think – and forgive me if I’m wrong on this – but I think the Governor has the power to call a referendum or a constitutional convention, which opens up the entire State constitution if I’m not mistaken. If it does get called and maybe a referendum can force this constitutional convention to take place. And I think when there are constitutional conventions that open up an entire State constitution – never mind the U.S. Constitution – to anything, there can always be mischief made from the right, if they get a populous thing going on one item, or another, or whatever. So, I think a constitutional convention is generally considered brought with danger as well as opportunity. But you’re familiar with that, right? That opportunity for a State constitutional convention?

Mayor: Yes, and I – Brian, my honest answer is that if we had a fair campaign finance system that disallowed the extraordinary flow of money into the political system, if we did not have the Citizen’s United decision by the Supreme Court, etcetera. If corporations were banned and wealthy individuals were banned from dominating the political process, I would be very interested in the constitutional convention that could actually fix a lot of problems in the State constitution, but my hesitation has always been – we’re literally talking about a rigged economy. We have a rigged electoral system and we – right now, if we were to have a constitutional convention, it would be dominated by the wealthy and the powerful. So, I have trouble buying into that at this moment. 

Lehrer: Speaking of State powers over the City – sorry, but the State investigation into your fundraising is continuing and the Times reports – and we know that there’s a U.S. Attorney, there’s the Manhattan DA, but also the State, Ethics Commissioner investigation going on, and the Times reports that they issued wide-ranging subpoenas to City Hall for communication between you and your former nonprofit related group, the Campaign for One New York, and other things. Are you providing all emails and other communications being subpoenaed willingly?

Mayor: Brian, let me [inaudible] really quick and answer the question. Everything I have done, everything my employees have done was done appropriately and all the work that was done was around issues like creating affordable housing for people and pre-K for our children. So, you know, I understand there will always be investigations in public life, but I’m absolutely certain that they will show that we did things the right way and for the right reasons. What specifically you’re talking about is JCOPE, the State commission. I believe that there’s a real disagreement here about their purview, their legal purview, and their authority and their jurisdiction. And so, I’ve said that very, very clearly. I think they’ve been on a fishing expedition and they’ve been out of their jurisdiction quite clearly. Now, the folks who represent the organization in question, the Campaign for One New York – my understanding is that their lawyers will be complying with this subpoena even though there’s a fundamental belief that it’s not an appropriate effort by JCOPE. And I continue to have the same concerns about the motivations of JCOPE’s activities. But, again, my understanding is the lawyers will comply with that subpoena. 

Lehrer: A judge has already rejected your complaint that this particular inquiry, largely under Governor Cuomo’s indirect control, is politically motivated.

Mayor: I’m not sure that’s fully the case, Brian. I’m not a lawyer, so you’ll forgive me if I use layman’s terms. My understanding is the judge responded to the narrow question of the subpoena, not the larger question of jurisdiction and purview, and that is something that, by definition, would go up to higher levels of the judicial system anyway. So, my sense is this is about a very narrow question – that’s what the judge ruled on. But I think it’s quite clear that JCOPE was meant for a different purpose, and, again, we’ll look into those motivations, going forward.

Lehrer: But your side, as well as the Campaign for One New York side, is going to comply with all of these subpoenas?

Mayor: Yes, my understanding is that it only relates to the Campaign for One New York. And, again, my full understanding is JCOPE – is that their focus is on the folks who might have lobbied or supported an organization, not on the folks in the government. But the bottom line is, yeah, as I understand it, those lawyers are going to comply with that subpoena. 

Lehrer: Alright. Well, you asked for suggestions on one area of policy today from the listeners and the last call that we’ll have time for is from somebody who I think has policy suggestions for another area that we’ve talked about a lot here in these Ask the Mayor sessions, and that is the condition of our homeless shelters. And I think we have a recommendation here from Carla, calling from Franklyn. Carla, you're on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello.

Question: Good morning. Thank you so much for taking my call. I live on West 25th Street down from a very large homeless shelter and there are some things that have come to my attention with this and trying to help make it work in our community. One is that I believe shelters should be required to have outdoor lighting – ours doesn’t even though we have 327 residents in our shelter – and that should be on the shelter to provide. Also, our shelter doesn’t have a lobby and because of that they need to go through metal detectors, and it means that the people in the shelter have to – you know, sometimes have to disrobe in full view of the street and it must be very embarrassing for them. So, I’d like to suggest that all homeless shelters have lobbies so that there are places to gather on the ground floor, but also for screening. And then a third suggestion is to – there’s been talk about another homeless shelter being put into our community and basically they’re making the same mistake they made when they brought this large homeless shelter in our community. And I’d like to suggest that you have a task force of community activists who have been working on this issue to work with DHS to figure out how to put these shelters into communities without all the challenges that have been in the past. 

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor?

Mayor: Well, on the first point – thank you, Carla, very much for a very constructive call and I very much appreciate your ideas. On the first part, I don’t know the specific shelter you’re referring to, but I’m concerned deeply by what you’re indicating. Obviously, we believe all shelters need proper lighting, proper security, and the security’s been beefed up quite a bit at shelters and NYPD is much more involved now in shelter security. We believe they need, of course, proper places for people to change and have privacy. So, I’m going to have our Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks look into this specific shelter and follow up because I don’t understand why those things are not in place and we’ll work immediately to try and address that. On the idea of community members gathering with us, we do a lot of that case by case, but I think it’s very constructive idea that we might be able to work city-wide to bring together a core group to help us think through what we need to do in each and every case to make these work better. We are doing everything we know how to do to get people out of shelter, to keep them from going in shelter, to prevent homelessness to begin with, and some of it is working and some of it is going to take more time to work, but the bottom line is that we want to go at the root of the problem, which is to stop people from ending up in shelters, stop people from ending up in homelessness, stop people from being evicted. But so long as we have to have homeless shelters, and we will need to keep putting them in places around the City until this crisis is over, I think your idea for bringing together key members of different communities to help think about a city-wide model – that could be very constructive, so I’ll talk to Commissioner Banks and see if we could do something like that. 

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, thanks for answering everybody’s questions – we’re out of time for today – and I’ll talk to you next week. 

Mayor: Thank you, Brian. 

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